Use quotes to search for exact phrases. Use AND/OR/NOT between keywords or phrases for more precise search results.

Tennessee Fetal Heartbeat Abortion Ban (SB 1236)

This law was last updated on Aug 29, 2019

This law is Anti–Choice




SB 1236




Feb 7, 2019


Co-sponsors: 11
Primary Sponsors: 1
Total Sponsors: 12


Forced Ultrasound, Heartbeat Bans

Full Bill Text

SB 1236 would prohibit abortion once a fetal heartbeat has been detected, except in the case of a medical emergency.

A fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks of pregnancy—two weeks after a person’s first missed period—and well before many even realize that they are pregnant.

The bill would require a physician to first determine whether the fetus the pregnant person is carrying has a detectable heartbeat. An ultrasound would be required to determine the presence of a fetal heartbeat. The bill does not specify what type of ultrasound.

If a fetal heartbeat is detected, the physician would be prohibited from performing an abortion unless there is a medical emergency. If an emergency exists and the fetus has not attained viability, the performing physician would need to licensed or certified. If an emergency exists and the fetus is viable, the bill would require the performing physician to be licensed and the abortion procedure to be performed in a licensed hospital.

The person who determines the presence or absence of a fetal heartbeat would be required to:

  • Record in the pregnant person’s medical record the estimated gestational age of the fetus, the ultrasound method used to test for a fetal heartbeat, the date and time of the test, and the results of the test, including the presence or absence of a fetal heartbeat; and
  • Offer the pregnant person the results of the ultrasound, including if a fetal heartbeat is detected.

The person who performs the ultrasound for the presence of a fetal heartbeat would be required to offer the pregnant person the option to view or hear the fetal heartbeat.

A physician who performs an abortion or attempts to procure a miscarriage after the detection of a fetal heartbeat and before or during viability under the medical emergency exception would be required to declare the following in a written statement to be placed in the patient’s medical records:

  • That the procedure is necessary, to the best of the physician’s reasonable medical judgement, due to a medical emergency; and
  • The specific condition that constitutes the medical emergency and that the procedure is asserted to address, and the medical rationale for the physician’s conclusion that the procedure is necessary to address the medical emergency.

A physician who performs an abortion or attempts to procure a miscarriage prior to determining a fetal heartbeat due to a medical emergency would be required to note the following in the patient’s medical records:

  • The physician’s belief that a medical emergency necessitating the procedure existed; and
  • The condition of the pregnant patient that prevented compliance.

Update #1

8/12/19 – 8/13/19: Lawmakers on the Tennessee State Judiciary Committee spent two days considering an amendment to the bill that would prohibit abortions once a pregnancy is detected.

The amendment would prohibit any abortion from being performed when a viable pregnancy is presumed to exist or has been confirmed. The amendment defines viability as finding the presence of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) or the presence of an intrauterine fetus with a heartbeat. HCG is a hormone produced by the placenta after implantation. Levels of HCG can be detected in the blood or urine anywhere from 11-14 days after conception. The amendment would essentially be a total abortion ban.

Under the amendment, a pregnancy is not viable only if a test indicates decreasing levels of HCG and the absence of a fetal heartbeat.

The amendment would make it a Class C felony to perform or induce an abortion upon a pregnant person when the pregnancy is viable. A physician who violates this provision would also have their medical license revoked. It would be a Class A misdemeanor for failing to determine viability or failing to record the required information in the pregnant person’s medical record.

Update #2

The state senate judiciary committee study session did not include any voting, which means the amendment is not yet attached to this bill or HB 77. It won’t be taken up again until the state legislature reconvenes in 2020.

Related Legislation

Companion bill to HB 77.

Identical to HB 1892/SB 1961, which failed to pass in 2018.

Latest Action

2/7/19 – Introduced.